The one thing that you have to remind yourself of when you're in the fog of the edit, when you just can't see where the film will land, is that you do this because you love it. You have to bring that little kid out in you.
Theo Avgerinos' '00 directorial debut was a dramatic war picture.
The film was shot outside his boyhood home with his father's 8mm camera and his sixth-grade friends serving as the cast. Later the young filmmaker would replay the footage on his TV and re-film it to give it a "vintage, Vietnam War-era" look. Sound clips of gunfire poached from The Terminator supplied the audio effects.
He carried his passion for filmmaking through high school and eventually to Bucknell, where he designed his own interdepartmental cinema/film studies degree, co-founded a student-run production company and launched an annual student film festival.
Landing that first post-Bucknell gig, though, required starting at the bottom of the movie business. Soon after graduation, Avgerinos followed up on a newspaper ad looking for unpaid pre-production interns on the set of the film Empire — a gritty New York City drama featuring John Leguizamo and Peter Sarsgaard. He arrived to interview at 5 p.m. and was asked if he was ready to work. Avgerinos immediately clocked in, running a 6 a.m.-midnight schedule from then on, sweeping floors, taking out the trash and doing odd errands. "I saw that it was a test," says Avgerinos. He distanced himself from the grousing intern pack and focused on efficiency. A month in, he was offered a paid gig.
He eventually landed in the director's seat, starting with an independent short film and progressing to 50 Pills — a comedy starring Kristen Bell and Jane Lynch. His latest film, Americons, is a dramatic look at the high-flying players behind the subprime mortgage crisis. The independent movie had the most popular trailer on iTunes for a few weeks in January, and — after a red-carpet Hollywood opening — was shown at select AMC theaters nationwide. Less than 1 percent of indie films ever get distribution, says Avgerinos. "And only a fraction of those get a theater deal. It puts us in this tiny category."
For the film, it was a Hollywood ending that betrayed its decidedly unglamorous production. "As an indie, budget restrictions apply to every aspect. We weren't waking up in massive trailers," he says. Some scenes were shot at the actors' homes, occasionally drawing the ire of neighbors. Avgerinos even worked the role of an extra, filling in in the background.
The hardest part for Avgerinos came after all the shooting wrapped, when he had to piece the whole film together from 40 hours of footage. He wouldn't imagine complaining, though. "The one thing that you have to remind yourself of when you're in the fog of the edit, when you just can't see where the film will land, is that you do this because you love it. You have to bring that little kid out in you."
And sometimes that's easy — like when Avgerinos found himself sitting in front of a 100-foot screen, mixing the sound on Americons in the same sound studio where the latest Transformers movie was mixed. "Those are the moments," he says. "It's the total thrill that I got toying around with the 8mm camera in 6th grade."
Posted April 2015